Kansas’ ballot box has too many locks

Voters fill out paper ballots at First Mennonite Brethren Church on Nov. 8, 2016.
Voters fill out paper ballots at First Mennonite Brethren Church on Nov. 8, 2016. File photo

The man who oversees the election office that threw out nearly 14,000 Kansans’ ballots from the 2016 general election is running for governor a year from now.

That’s a thought six other Republicans in the gubernatorial primary field – and the Democratic candidates – probably can’t get out of their heads.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach is known locally for his work in making it harder for Kansans to vote in the name of eliminating voter fraud – fraud that has been proven in the most infinitesimal numbers.

He’s known nationally for that, plus being co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity that was seemingly created to prove Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he would have won the 2016 popular vote if not for 3 million to 5 million illegal votes.

Kansas, No. 33 in population, was seventh among states in throwing out 2016 ballots, the Associated Press reported. The six states that threw out more are among the 10 most-populated states.

So how did we get so good at throwing out ballots? And can the thrower play quarterback for Kansas this season?

State elections director Bryan Caskey said last week that Kansas is more aggressive than most in handing out ballots. His office’s philosophy “is that if you walk in the door you get a ballot. ... Even if there is no way that ballot is going to count, to at least give us a chance to do a little research to see if we can count it, and many states don’t do that.”

Well, no, many states have the same philosophy because of a federal law that requires a provisional ballot be given to someone who arrives at the polling place but isn’t on voter rolls.

Kansas handed out 40,872 provisional ballots and discarded a third of them. Some reasons for throwing them out: The voter moved to another county but didn’t update registration; trying to vote in the wrong jurisdiction; and not being registered at all.

One obvious weakness in the system came from Kansas’ online registration site. Residents went to a voting place thinking they were registered because of misleading confirmations in the online system.

The election office knew of the erroneous confirmations but didn’t notify voters. The election office told county officials to count the ballots of those affected only if they brought a printout of their online confirmation. Otherwise, those voters were given provisional ballots that were later discarded.

It’s not known how many online registrants had ballots thrown out because of the website mistake, but even a few is too many. Voters who make the effort to register online should have confidence in the system to know they’re registered if a confirmation message appears. Online registration should be the easiest and most accurate way to become a Kansas voter.

Kobach should spend the fall making sure the avenues that led to so many dismissed ballots are shut by next August’s primaries, while still maintaining the integrity of the voting process. For a state our size, tossing that many ballots isn’t trying to help voters – it’s more likely trying to shut them out.